'Big Four' evolves to Novak and 'Next 4' - UBITENNIS
Connect with us

Focus

‘Big Four’ evolves to Novak and ‘Next 4’

Avatar

Published

on

TENNIS – There no longer appears to be a “Big Four” of men’s tennis. It’s more like the “King and the Next Four” now that the first Grand Slam of the year is history. Obviously, Novak Djokovic is the best player in the game at the moment. Of course, that could change in a one-month span in early summer. By James Beck

 

There no longer appears to be a “Big Four” of men’s tennis.

It’s more like the “King and the Next Four” now that the first Grand Slam of the year is history.

Obviously, Novak Djokovic is the best player in the game at the moment. Of course, that could change in a one-month span in early summer.

Murray And Nadal Almost Back

The most significant occurrences in this Australian Open other than Djokovic’s march to his fifth title Down Under and fourth in the last five years, and Roger Federer’s early departure, were the reemmergences of Andy Murray and Rafa Nadal at the top of their games, if only for a couple of matches in Nadal’s case.

Neither Nadal or Murray won the tournament, and both suffered embarrassing 6-0 setbacks, but it was the flashes of brillance that both demonstrated in their defeats that impressed me. Those efforts make me believe that both Nadal and Murray are near full recovery to their former levels of play, prior to Murray’s back surgery two years ago and Nadal’s recent long layoff due to injury and health issues.

Murray was superb for much of his long four-set final against Djokovic. The Scotsman just needs to develop his game so he can sustain consistency when he goes for winners. He committed too many errors on what should have been winners to open courts against Djokovic. Novak was able to out-defense Murray, and come up with the big groundstroke more consistently than Murray.

Novak Will Be Difficult To Catch

Djokovic is at a place where it will be difficult for anyone to catch him. But Nadal and Murray might be the best bests to accomplish that task. And don’t forget Stan Wawrinska, possibly the most dangerous player in the game. When Wawrinska is on, he is probably more dominant and dangerous than anyone in the game, including Djokovic.

Federer still has some big moments left in his career, although they may not include another Grand Slam title. Right now, I see Federer as the fifth-best player in the game, the last member of the “Next Four.”

Tomas Berdych may have dominated Nadal much of their quarterfinal, but the vanilla-like play of Berdych may never earn a Grand Slam title. He’s not in the class of the “Next Four” or Djokovic as an athlete, although he occasionally may sneak up on one of them with his big strokes and serve.

No Update On Nadal’s Status

No word has come out about another Nadal injury, and it may not, but Nadal obviously wasn’t his self in his straight-set loss to Berdych. Something was wrong. It was surprising that the TV analysts did not pick up on anything being wrong with Nadal until late in the match when Nadal appeared to be near the top of his game at times. The analysts were too busy heaping praise on Berdych’s play to notice that Nadal wasn’t energized in his normal style of play.

Berdych did look awesome at times against Nadal, but when an opponent doesn’t even attempt to run down shots that he normally would get to, something usually is wrong with the player when the player in question is Nadal. The Spanish great looked like he wanted to be anywhere other than Rod Laver Arena on the night Berdych broke his long losing streak to Nadal.

Of course, Berdych resorted back to his true form in the semifinals against Murray. Berdych just doesn’t seem to have the tenacity, intensity and focus to reach true elite status in the sport.

James Beck is the long-time tennis columnist for the Charleston (S.C.) Post and Courier newspaper. He can be reached at Jamesbecktennis@gmail.com

http://www.postandcourier.com/apps/pbcs.dll/section?Category=search&text=james+beck&facet.filter=&facet.filter=&sortbydate=1

Focus

The Incomparable “Big Three” Are Poised to Make More History

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic have been battling mightily for many years to claim the game’s top prizes, and yet they all remain highly motivated. What they have already achieved by winning 58 majors collectively is amazing, but these three magnificent players are still at the forefront of the sport. This piece examines how they have established themselves as the all time leaders among the men at the majors, but also projects the way their gripping race through history at the Grand Slam events might end

Avatar

Published

on

We are glad to announce that Steve Flink, the 2017 International Tennis Hall of Fame inductee and long-time tennis insider, has joined the Ubitennis team. He will be writing two monthly long-form features on some of the most relevant topics in world tennis, starting today with a prediction on who will end up winning the most Slam titles among Djokovic, Federer and Nadal.

 

The greatest players in the game of tennis set themselves apart with their supreme craftsmanship, extraordinary artistry and astonishing match playing acumen. They are superior athletes, top of the line competitors and outstanding individuals who know how to achieve with the force of their wills, the strength of their minds and the depth of their commitment. They are better than anyone else because they find the taste of defeat intolerable and they can handle almost unbearable pressure with both equanimity and creativity.

Enter Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic, a trio of icons who have thoroughly captured the imagination of the sporting public collectively for nearly two decades, comprehensively dominating the sport with their enduring exploits as commendably as it can be done. Think of it: Federer and Nadal now stand together at the top of the men’s list for most major singles titles won with 20 each, while Djokovic is only narrowly behind his two chief rivals with 18. Federer is 39 years old, Nadal 34, and Djokovic 33, but it hardly seems to matter; all three are impenetrable and, in many ways, ageless. They have battled ferociously against “Father Time”, and still remain the pace setters of the sport at the biggest tournaments.

After Djokovic recently secured his ninth Australian Open title to close the gap between himself and his renowned Swiss and Spanish rivals, sports fans everywhere across the globe started focussing with renewed vigor on the fascinating race for historical supremacy at the uniquely prestigious Grand Slam events among these towering performers. It made all of us reexamine the race, project what might be coming, and look at who will eventually stand atop the tennis mountain when all is said and done.

But before offering my prognosis on how this will all play out, let me reflect on what has transpired over the years that has brought us to this juncture. The past is not entirely prologue, but it is well worth considering in determining what the future might hold for this incomparable trio.

By the end of 2005—when Djokovic was already No. 83 in the world but still only 18 and not yet an authentic contender for majors—Federer had already collected six Grand Slam titles. He had taken his first major at Wimbledon in 2003, adding three of the premier crowns in 2004, and then capturing two more in 2005. That was the year when Nadal at 19 claimed his first major at Roland Garros, and so, even though he was five titles behind his Swiss rival, the dynamic Spanish left-hander was officially on the board and in the chase.

Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, French Open 2005
Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal (Photo Credit: Live Tennis)

Three years later, at the end of 2008, Federer had widened his lead over Nadal. He now owned 13 major crowns, while Nadal had lifted his total to five yet trailed Federer by an even wider margin than was the case only a few years earlier. Nonetheless, after taking his fourth title at Roland Garros that year, Nadal at last succeeded somewhere else at the Grand Slam Championships, toppling Federer on the lawns of the All England Club in an epic 2008 final to take the world’s premier title at Wimbledon for the first time.

That was surely a pivotal moment not only in the Nadal-Federer rivalry, but also within the realm of the sport. Federer had won Wimbledon five years in a row up until then, but Nadal had overcome the world’s best grass court player on his favorite turf. Meanwhile, Djokovic made his mark during that 2008 season in Melbourne, taking his first title at the Australian Open, claiming his maiden major in the process. That, too, was a landmark moment in tennis history, and clearly a sign of things to come for the charismatic Serbian.

Let’s move on to the end of 2011, when Djokovic celebrated a spectacular season which included triumphs at three of the four Grand Slam events. He had commenced that campaign magnificently, sweeping 41 matches in a row before Federer upended him in the semifinals at Roland Garros.

With that groundbreaking 2011 season, Djokovic now had four Grand Slam titles in his collection but Federer and Nadal stood far above him with 16 and 10 respectively. Remarkably, in 2009, Federer had broken Pete Sampras’s record of 14 men’s majors with his sixth Wimbledon title run. But Federer won only one major in 2010 and none at all in 2011. Nadal picked up five in a three year span to finish 2011 closer to Federer but still well behind the Swiss. And yet, both Federer and Nadal knew that Djokovic was now unmistakably and irrevocably in the hunt. It was still inconceivable then that Djokovic could ever catch up with Federer, but astute followers of the game knew that Djokovic was just beginning to explore his full potential.

Sep 13, 2015; New York, NY, USA; Novak Djokovic of Serbia greets Roger Federer of Switzerland before the Men’s Singles Final on day fourteen of the 2015 U.S. Open tennis tournament at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

The fact remained that Djokovic picked up only three more majors from 2012-2014—less than many astute observers anticipated. Nadal amassed four majors across that three year period, while Federer took just one Grand Slam title in that span—Wimbledon in 2012. And so the count stood this way when the curtain closed on 2014:  Federer 17, Nadal 14, and Djokovic 7. 

Consider where things stood at the end of 2017. That season Federer and Nadal divided the four majors while Djokovic had a difficult season. In 2015 and on into 2016, Djokovic had established himself as the first man to win four majors in a row since Rod Laver won his second Grand Slam in 1969. He won three majors in 2015 and two more in 2016 but then suffered with elbow issues in 2017 and was unable to add to his collection. By the time 2017 ended, Federer had climbed to 19, Nadal had amassed 16 and Djokovic held 12 of the big prizes. The cognoscenti of tennis was fixated on the race between Federer and Nadal. They were a pair of revitalized competitors who were climbing regally through history, but well aware that Djokovic was making inroads.

Nevertheless, since Nadal is five years younger than Federer, there was a growing feeling that he was the man who might eventually equal or surpass Federer at the majors. Djokovic was struggling physically. Most authorities believed that the Serbian was destined to conclude his career in third place on the all time list, likely to pass Sampras eventually yet a long shot to overcome Federer and Nadal.

But look at what has happened since. Djokovic had surgery on the elbow, but by the middle of 2018 he was once more at the top of his game and back in the flow of winning when it mattered the most. He secured the Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles in 2018, added two more majors in 2019, and has now been victorious at the last three Australian Open Championships.

He has been the champion at six of the last ten majors, raising his total of career Grand Slam titles to 18. Nadal, meanwhile, tied Federer at 20 last autumn with his 13th French Open triumph. The Spaniard’s consistency—most prominently at Roland Garros—has been his greatest virtue. He set a men’s record by securing at least one major for ten years in succession (2005-2014). In 14 of the previous 16 seasons, from 2005-2020, he took one or more majors. He has earned his place right alongside Federer at the top of the list. The Swiss Maestro, however, has been out of circulation at the majors since he lost to Djokovic in the semifinals of the 2020 Australian Open. Prior to that, he had two match points in the 2019 Wimbledon final before falling short against Djokovic in a blockbuster, bowing gallantly in a fifth set tie-break played at 12-12. He had missed out on a golden opportunity to oust both Nadal and Djokovic in the same Grand Slam tournament, a feat he has never realized.

Federer will return soon in Doha after more than a year away from the game following two knee surgeries. He must never be underestimated. In 2017, he returned from another knee surgery and, after six months away from the game, stunned Nadal in the final of the Australian Open, spectacularly winning five games in a row from 1-3 in the fifth set to seal the crown. Later that year, he won his eighth Wimbledon title to set a men’s record and then, at the start of 2018, defended his Australian Open crown.

That was Federer’s third triumph in his last four Grand Slam tournaments (he skipped the 2017 French Open) and the Swiss was on a glorious run. But now he faces the reality of turning 40 in August and coming back after a long hiatus. He might well bypass Roland Garros again and pour all of his energy and inspiration into winning Wimbledon for the ninth time and thus secure a 21st major.

As the most natural grass court player in the world and a champion utterly determined to flourish once more when it counts the most, Federer must be taken seriously in London. And that could be his last best chance to prevail at a major tennis tournament. I would not put it past him to win this year on the Wimbledon lawns.

And yet, as prodigious as he remains, the odds are against Federer winning any more majors. But that is not the case, of course, with both Nadal and Djokovic.

Rafa Nadal e Novak Djokovic – Roland Garros 2020 (via Twitter, @rolandgarros)

The Spaniard will be a huge favorite in June to win Roland Garros for the fifth year in a row and the 14th time overall. He would then move ahead of Federer for the first time and lengthen his career lead over Djokovic at the four majors to three titles. Djokovic has worked inordinately hard to move within two titles of his premier rivals, and a Nadal victory in Paris (which I fully expect) would put an added burden on Djokovic at both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. Djokovic would sorely need to win at least one of those two tournaments. Prevailing at both will be difficult, but not impossible. He has won five Wimbledon titles altogether, including the last two times he played there in 2018 and 2019. At the U.S. Open, Djokovic has not exploited his opportunities nearly as well, losing five of his eight finals in New York.

My prediction is for Djokovic to win one more major this year at Wimbledon, and thus remain two behind Nadal. He would then be only one behind Federer in this compelling historical chase. In my view, Nadal will conclude the 2021 campaign with 21 majors and Djokovic will stand at 19.

What happens then? To be sure, 2022 will be crucial for both the Spaniard and the Serbian. I believe Djokovic has a very good chance to take his tenth Australian Open title, and will once more make a big push at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. The view here is that he will capture two majors (the Australian and U.S. Opens) during the 2022 season. The question is this: will Nadal win a 15th French Open? If he does, (and I say he will) the two great players would be separated by one major title heading into 2023 as Nadal gets to 22 and Djokovic makes it to 21 next year.

The view here is that 2023 could well be the last big year for both superstars. Nadal will turn 37 in June of that year; Djokovic reaches 36 in May. They must make the most of their openings. I am guessing that Nadal will finally lose again at Roland Garros and that he will not win any of the “Big Four” titles in 2023. Djokovic, however, will find a way to secure two more majors at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. That would be a tall order for the Serbian, but I believe he can realize that feat.

So there you have it. Djokovic will conclude his career with 23 majors and Nadal will settle for 22. Federer should remain at 20. Would that resolve, once and for all, the G.O.A.T (Greatest of All Time) debate? Not necessarily. First of all, neither Rod Laver nor Pete Sampras can be overlooked in that debate. Laver won two Grand Slams, achieving that feat in 1962 and 1969. Sampras spent a record six consecutive years at No. 1 (1993-98) in the world and competed in an era when there was a greater diversity of playing styles in the upper regions of the sport, and yet he won 14 of 18 finals at the Grand Slam events. In my view, Sampras at his best indoors and on hard and grass courts is a better player than anyone who has ever lifted a racket.

Can we judge Federer, Nadal and Djokovic solely on their numbers at the major tournaments? The answer, emphatically, is no. Djokovic currently holds a 29-27 career head to head lead over Nadal and has a 27-23 record against Federer. Those figures matter. That strengthens the Serbian’s case. A feather in the cap of Federer is his astounding consistency. He has won 103 tournaments overall in his career while Nadal has amassed 86 and Djokovic 82. I doubt either Nadal or Djokovic will ever catch up to Federer. The larger question is: can Federer can move past Jimmy Connors, who owns an Open Era record 109 career titles? I doubt Federer will surpass Connors, but he has an outside chance. Federer once reached 23 consecutive semifinals at the majors (2004-2010) in his prime and made it to at least the quarterfinals in 36 straight majors (2004-2013). That is an unmatched standard of enduring excellence.

Djokovic will break Federer’s record for most weeks at No. 1 in the world next week when he goes to 311, and, if he can finish 2021 at No. 1, he would be the first man ever to end seven years stationed at the top. And what of Nadal? No one has ever dominated so comprehensively on a surface as he has on clay. So only time will tell where these three great men end up on the historical ladder of tennis. Meanwhile, we can all marvel at this trio as they make more history, inspire us with their heroics and wrap up their shining careers.


Steve Flink has been reporting full time on tennis since 1974, when he went to work for World Tennis Magazine. He stayed at that publication until 1991. He wrote for Tennis Week Magazine from 1992-2007, and has been a columnist and writer for tennis.com and tennischannel.com for the past 14 years. Flink has written four books on tennis including “Dennis Ralston’s Tennis Workbook” in 1987; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of the Twentieth Century” in 1999; “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” in 2012; and “Pete Sampras: Greatness Revisited”. The Sampras book was released in September of 2020 and can be purchased on Amazon.com. Flink was inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 2017.

Continue Reading

Focus

Petra Kvitova beats Anastasya Pavlyuchenkova to advance to the quarter final in Doha

Avatar

Published

on

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova knocked out Anastasya Pavlyuchenkova 6-1 6-3 to advance to the quarter finals at the Qatar Total Open in Doha. Kvitova hit 31 winners to 19 unforced errors. 

 

Kvitova saved two break points to hold serve after two deuces. Kvitova broke twice in a row to win the fisrt set 6-1. The Czech saved three of the four break points she faced. 

Pavlyuchenkova took a 3-1 lead with a break in the fourth game of the second set, but Kvitova reeled off five games with three consecutive breaks to close out the second set 6-3. 

Number 8 seed Victoria Azarenka rallied from a slow start to beat German qualifier and Roland Garros quarter finalist Laura Siegemund 6-4 6-2. 

Siegemund broke serve in the fourth game to take a 3-1 lead. Azarenka broke back in the fifth game of the first set to draw level to 3-3. Siegemund was unable to convert eight game points in a marathon seventh game featuring 12 deuces. Azarenka converted her fourth break point to take a 4-3 lead, but Siegemund broke back to draw level to 4-4. Azarenka broke again in the ninth game to win the first set 6-4. 

Azarenka raced out to a 5-0 lead with three breaks, but she was not able to serve out the win on her first attempt in the sixth game. Siegemund pulled one break back in the sixth game. Azarenka sealed the win on her fifth match point with a hold in the eighth game to secure her spot in the quarter finals. 

Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit cruised past three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber 6-1 6-4 to advance to the third round. Kontaveit dropped her serve once in the entire match. 

Kontaveit went up a double break in the second and fourth games to cruise through to a 6-1 win in the opening set. The Estonian player raced out to a 4-1 lead with two consecutive breaks. Kerber pulled one break back in the sixth game for 2-4. Kontaveit held her next service games to claim the second set 6-4. Kontaveit has extended her win-loss record to 4-1 in her five head-to-head matches against Kerber. 

This year’s Australian Open quarter finalist Jessica Pegula beat 2016 Doha finalist Jelena Ostapenko 6-2 7-5. 

Pegula earned a double break in the third and seventh games to close out the first set 6-2. 

The second set started with three consecutive breaks. Pegula took a 2-1 lead with two breaks in the first and third games. Ostapenko broke back at love to draw level to 4-4 after winning 12 consecutive points from 2-4 down. 

Pegula won 12 of the last 14 points from 4-5 down to claim the second set 7-5 with a break in the 11th game.

Maria Sakkari eased past Madison Keys 6-2 6-2 with two breaks in each set. The Greek player earned an early break at love in the third game to take a 3-1 lead. Sakkari converted her fourth break point after eight games to win the first set 6-2. Sakkari saved a break point and broke twice in a row in the fifth and seventh games to win the second set 6-2.  

Continue Reading

ATP

Rafael Nadal Withdraws From Rotterdam Due To Back Injury

Rafael Nadal has withdrawn from Rotterdam due to ongoing back problems.

Avatar

Published

on

Rafael Nadal (@WeAreTennisITA - Twitter)

Rafael Nadal has announced his withdrawal from next week’s ATP 500 event in Rotterdam due to a back injury.

 

The Spaniard’s back problems have started since before the Australian Open which he managed to play the tournament in Melbourne with the problem.

Eventually Nadal lost in his Australian Open quarter-final to Stefanos Tsitsipas from 2 sets to love up.

Despite playing in Melbourne, Nadal’s back problems continue to derail his schedule as he has now withdrawn from Rotterdam.

In a statement on Twitter, Nadal said that after consulting his doctor it was not the best idea to play Rotterdam.

“It is with great sadness that I have to forfeit from Rotterdam. As most of the fans know, I suffered back problems in Australia that started in Adelaide and continued in Melbourne,” Nadal said.

“We found a temporary solution that allowed me to play without pain in the second week of the tournament. Once I got back to Spain I visited my doctor and together with my team they’ve advised not to play this upcoming week.”

Nadal’s 10 year hiatus from the tournament continues as he looks to recover from the problem as soon as possible.

The 20-time grand slam champion’s main priority will be the clay-court swing where he can win a record-breaking 21st grand slam title.

Nadal’s next scheduled tournament will be the Miami Masters in late-March.

Meanwhile Nadal could now lose his world number two ranking next week as the top seed which is now Daniil Medvedev could replace him there.

The recent Australian Open finalist will need to reach the final if he wants to become the world number two but will face stiff competition in Holland from the likes of Stefanos Tsitsipas, Andrey Rublev and Milos Raonic.

The tournament will start on the 1st of March.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending